LordKnight Explains: How to Learn a New Character

By on October 16, 2015 at 11:57 am
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Hi everyone!

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been posting long reads on Tuesdays about fighting games. They’ve ranged from how-to guides to strategy and philosophy. This column is a continuation of that.

I want to share my experiences with both new and intermediate players who might be stuck. If you read one of these and think, “Well, that was obvious,” then good! If you take something away from these articles, then that’s good too.

For those of you who have been following these, I’ve added a section called action items at the end of the article. These are a bit like homework – it’s something you can try immediately. Let me know what you think in the comments!

If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, feel free to ask me on Twitter at @LordKnightBB.

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I get this question quite often. Going back through my play history, I’ve not only switched characters several times, but I’ve played different types of characters as well (by “types”, I mean grappler, setplay, etc.).

I want to start by saying that learning a character is a continuing process. As in, no matter what your level, you’ll always have something to learn.

Identifying the character’s goal

I usually start by stepping back and looking at the character’s design. What kind of character are they? For reference, I’ve played:

  • Grapplers – characters relying on poke/throw mixup. Includes Zangief, Tager, Potemkin, etc.
  • Setplay – also known as vortex characters. This is like Cammy, Millia, etc.
  • Poking/Mid-Range Neutral – Generally try to control space around them. Think Ryu, Mitsuru, Ky, etc.
  • Zoner – A defensive character that wants to control a large amount of space on the screen, like Dhalsim, Nu-13, Yukiko, etc.
  • Item Throw – Heavy neutral, and the items usually act independently of the character. Think Teddie, Faust, etc.
  • Mode Change – This category is a little vague, but these characters usually have two different styles that you have to break down. Think Gen, Litchi, Aigis, etc.
  • Puppet Characters – A character that can control a small shadow or assist. This is like Zato-1, Ken Amada, Ice Climbers (sort of), etc.
  • Combinations of the above – Simpler puppet characters, fast grapplers, etc.

Once you identify what type of character you want to play, you need to look at the character’s specific toolset. Usually, a character has a strong situation or goal that you’ll be aiming for. In Millia’s case, my goal is to knock the opponent down in the corner, where she’s at her strongest. A zoner will want to effectively keep an opponent out, a grappler wants to be in poke/throw range, and so on. While this sounds basic, you want to keep this in mind, because this “goal” will continue to be refined as you improve.

Getting familiar with tools, bread and butter combos, and common situations

This is actually a bit hard, since you’ll be trying to process a lot of information quickly.

The first thing I do is go into training mode and get comfortable with the character’s normals. Generally I look at:

  • Ground pokes
  • Anti-airs
  • Air vs. air
  • Fast attacks

This shouldn’t take too long – you aren’t trying to examine how your moveset interacts with the rest of the cast just yet; it’s just about getting familiar with the general ranges of your attacks.

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After that, I practice converting off these common tools as well as conversions that I assume I’ll hit with in my early games. This can vary by character; for reference, when I picked up Millia, I learned how to combo from:

  • Her 6K overhead
  • High/low with H disc
  • Basic 50 meter conversion
  • Random j.P conversion

Basically, you want to not only have an idea of your neutral toolset, but you also want to be able to get used to converting specifc and random hits.

Your first matches

Exactly what it sounds like: play some matches. Play a good amount and get adjusted to your character. The nice thing about these early games is that it’s easy to see what you need to work on. You’ll definitely run into situations you aren’t familiar with, or get a hit you don’t know how to convert into a combo. There are going to be matchups you don’t understand, and you won’t be able to maximize the use of your tools against the opponent. Take note of what you’re having problems with (it should be a good amount) and circle back to training mode.

Personally, I write down what I have problems with, which helps me focus on the things I’m having problems with immediately.

Refinement

As I said before, this step doesn’t really “end.” There are two aspects to refinement:

  • One player refinement
  • Two player refinement

What do I mean?

Anything that’s “one player” are things that you can practice on your own. This includes aspects like perfecting and optimizing your conversions, practicing and developing knockdown setups and rushdown, developing new tech for your character, and more.

You can’t refine anything that’s “two player” alone. This includes defense, neutral, and developing and perfecting matchup strategy.

I want to stress that, early on, it’s very important to perfect things that are one player, mainly because it’s easier. You can do it alone, so it’s really on you. A lot of lower level players can get a quick personal win (as far as improvement) by cleaning up their execution, offense, and knockdown. Later on, you’ll be greatly focused on refining more high-level topics for your character.

Also, you should note that even though I split them up, they aren’t mutually exclusive. The main thing you should understand is what it takes to improve in each of these aspects.

Finally, I want to mention that this is just my approach to this, and you don’t have to do it exactly the same way. The great thing about fighting games is that there are multiple approaches you can take to accomplish the same final goal. This is the way that works for me, but I can guarantee that there’s some other strong player out there that has a different approach. Use what works for you.

Conclusion

Essentially, these are the steps I take when learning a new character:

  • Identifying the character’s goal
  • Normals, general tools, bread and butter combos, and common situations
  • Early Games
  • Refinement

Action Steps

How do you go about learning a character? Is your approach similar to mine, or do you have your own way? Let me know on Twitter through @LordKnightBB or in the comments below.

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(Featured image courtesy of FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)